College Sports

Here’s why Charlotte 49ers aren’t worried about being picked last in conference poll

Charlotte 49ers linebacker Karrington King is the leader of a defensive front that lost key players this offseason.
Charlotte 49ers linebacker Karrington King is the leader of a defensive front that lost key players this offseason. emorgan@charlotteobserver.com

Charlotte 49ers linebacker Karrington King couldn’t help but grin when he heard his teammates’ excitement.

While he was addressing media during the season’s first practice Saturday, the redshirt senior smiled when defensive back AJ McDonald and defensive lineman Zach Duncan joyfully shouted, “It’s time to go to work” as they trotted to the field for a light helmet and shorts practice.

But while the delivery was humorous, their message wasn’t.

Even though four players from last year’s team are currently on NFL rosters, the 49ers struggled in 2016. Charlotte finished 4-8, winning just 37 percent of their games.. Football Bowl Subdivision rules state that to be bowl game eligible, a team must win at least six games and 50 percent of their games.

They just missed it.

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Offensively, the Charlotte 49ers are depending on quarterback Hasaan Klugh. Emmanuel Morgan emorgan@charlotteobserver.com

Those shortcomings have fueled the 49ers this offseason. And with the season about to begin, King said his team has tunnel vision on the goal they didn’t fulfill last year.

“It’s the little things, that’s the reason we didn’t make it,” King said. “That’s our first goal, that’s our only goal really, We have to win a bowl game.”

King is the leader of a defensive front that lost key players this offseason. The linebacking corps is still intact, but the defensive line lost starters Larry Ogunjobi and Brandon Banks, who signed with the Cleveland Browns and Washington Redskins respectively. Coach Brad Lambert trusts Karrington, who had 73 tackles last year, to be a leader. But he’s hoping someone on the defensive line will step up to fill the gigantic voids.

“We lost a lot of production there last year and that’s the biggest thing that we have to get accomplished,” Lambert said.

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“We have lofty goals and our guys want to attain that,” Charlotte 49ers head football coach Brad Lambert, seen here at practice Saturday, says. Emmanuel Morgan emorgan@charlotteobserver.com

Offensively, the 49ers are depending on quarterback Hasaan Klugh. The redshirt junior started the final seven games and threw for 1,356 yards and 10 touchdowns, while also adding 426 yards and eight scores on the ground. Klugh seized his opportunity when former starter Kevin Olsen struggled. Now with an offseason under his belt, he’s looking to capitalize on the momentum.

“You have to work hard no matter what and know that your team is looking up to you,” Klugh said. “And me being a quarterback, I know everyone else is, too.”

The 49ers were picked to finish last in the East Division of the Conference USA Media poll. But if you asked the team, they’re not concerned about it. Lambert said they’re optimistic about what’s to come.

And most importantly, he said it’s time to go to work to improve.

“We know what our goals are, we have lofty goals and our guys want to attain that,” Lambert said. “People pick you where they do and it all ends up on the field. ... That’s what the results are in the end.”

Emmanuel Morgan: 704-358-5337, @_EmmanuelMorgan

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